It's hard to be sure where to pitch The Walking Dead Book 1. It's not interesting enough to be appealing to a reader who has no interest in zombies, and old time fans will get a definite sense of "seen it before". However if you are new to the zombie genre, then this would be a great read, lifting some of the best storylines from the movies. What does make it interesting though, is that this is the start (collecting issues #1-#12) of an ongoing story. By ongoing I mean that there is no end; frustrated by the questions left at the end of every zombie movie, writer Robert Kirkman decided to tackle the problem himself and start a comic that would keep on going and never end.
I won't go into the story in any detail since that would only spoil things. I will, however, say that within the first twenty or so pages there are recognisable elements of 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead. Purist Romero fans will be relieved to know that the zombies are the brainless shambling style of the latter, rather than the PCP-addict-turned-cannibal style of the former. For the most part the zombie lore is carefully preserved, with only one deviation from the widely accepted rules.
Avoiding the trap that has felled oh so many entries in the zombie genre (across all media), this comic is not about zombies, nor even about people killing zombies. It is a look at how a group of people struggle to survive when the entire world they knew has been ripped down before them. Interpersonal relationships and mankind's ability to adapt to survive are the real subjects here. They just happen to be set in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Having said that, it is an easy read. While the characters are subjected to all the predictable trials of a zombie outbreak, the reader is never challenged in the slightest.
Whether this is a good thing or not is down to personal taste.
A regular thing that comes up in customer reviews of The Walking Dead is the change in art style halfway through. Tony Moore provides excellent art for chapter 1, and while it's not ultra-stylised like 30 Days of Night, it suits the purpose perfectly. Charlie Adlard takes over for chapter 2, and there is a noticeable dip in the quality. In particular the art becomes less detailed and feels a little less "graphic novel" and a little more "comic". Although I personally didn't find it as jarring as others have described, there is no denying that the zombies just don't look as good in the second chapter. The look of the characters changes quite a lot too, and not for the better.
There are some extras in the back of this hardback collection that were absent from the trades; first there's an introduction to the extras, with an explanation of why it was decided to leave them out of the trades. Next there is a black and white painting and some sketches, then finally some gorgeous full-colour prints of the cover art and an afterword about the ongoing-movie concept behind the comic.
The Walking Dead is an entertaining light read, and gives the sense that it is building up to something special in future books. However, in this first book there are simply too many cliché locations and plot elements for a serious zombie fan to feel truly satisfied. A good start, and fingers crossed for the future, but fails to rise to something truly special this time round.